I recently got the chance to take a look at IND-XED, an upcoming comic written by Fraser Campbell with art by Lucy Sullivan. Before beginning, I read that IND-XED was a lofi comic, so I set my reading space accordingly. I made a pot of espresso. I turned on a lofi Spotify playlist. Then I sat cross-legged on my bed and dove in. IND-XED really is a lofi comic. Where other music genres prioritize crisp sounds, lofi opts for grainy and gritty versions. Where other comics might choose clear lines or cartoonish expressions, IND-XED characters often blend into or scrape against the background. I felt the hanging bitterness of espresso and the coarse melodies of lofi paired well with the unique imagery of IND-XED.
On my first read-through, it was clear that IND-XED could be appreciated on the merits of its art alone. Through its gritty, but still somehow soft charcoal-esque strokes, the comic is tactile as much as visual. Diving deeper, though, I realized that the art actually supported the narrative in very intentional and interesting ways. It assists in developing the themes as much as any other part of the comic.
Sullivan plays primarily with the color black, supported by muted, almost sickly, greens and yellows. She scatters neon pink, orange, and blue in places, but they dull the background color with their contrast, rather than lighten the panels. This pallet serves the darker themes of the narrative well. The fading and shifting backgrounds, reminiscent of a thick fog, disconnect the foreground from the world at large. For a comic where isolation is a key theme, this style pairs brilliantly. I found that a more literal artistic interpretation of some of the major themes, like compliance and self-preservation in a dystopian setting, might turn this one-shot into a heavy-handed anti-authoritarian piece, but Sullivan’s touch transforms the narrative into a more subtle and complex emotional cocktail. I might continue to gush over the artistic direction, but my praise boils down to this: it was very important in crafting this particular story.
It feels wrong to call IND-XED a love story, but it is about love in the end. Not romantic love, but the love between friends, neighbors, and strangers. Our protagonist, nameless through much of the story, is at the center of a struggle between compliance and compassion. She has been IND-XED, cast out from society. Strangers sympathize with her plight, but can only help her indirectly to protect themselves. The people fear that the governing body will target them for assisting her, and IND-X them next. The reactions from the citizens, pity, fear, disdain, and apathy, all feel real and believable. Narratively and artistically.
Trying to define an antagonist for IND-XED is a difficult task. The most physical ‘enemy’ in this world is the governing body, but it remains largely undefined, melted into the background. The attitudes of regular folk, on the other hand, are defined and palpable. The people shun the IND-XED here, fear them there, ignore them elsewhere. Yet the individual people are hard to blame or label as evil for this treatment. They must also survive in this terrifying system. There isn’t a bad guy to fight, there’s an arbitrary and broken system that is built to sustain itself at any cost. Systems that create social outcasts like this exist in the real world just as much as in the comic world, and it serves as an important connection between reality and the shadowy world of Campbell and Sullivan. IND-XED‘s narrative deepens when pointed at these connections.
Ultimately, there is a physical representation of the system, but it isn’t the culmination we’re led to believe exists. Campbell plays with the audience’s expectation that there will be a controlling, final-boss-type character, and turns left. I chuckled to feel the narrative tension I had built in my mind disperse when I realized this new direction. I won’t spoil the big twist, but I will say that there were plenty of interesting layers to pull back and inspect. Often those ideas gave new meaning to earlier plot details!
There are many ways to interpret the narrative arc of IND-XED. Campbell stays away from overloading the reader with exposition, freeing them to create their own theories about the protagonist’s journey. On my first read-through, a conversation between the protagonist and a mysterious “auditor” felt innocuous. Returning to those pages again, I saw more sinister possibilities. Without spoiling anything, I thought: What if it was a set up the whole time? Campbell doesn’t give the answers, and I think IND-XED is the better for it. The meat of the story isn’t in the conspiracy details. It starts with believable human interactions and ends with a powerful statement about confronting arbitrary systems of fear and violence.
If comics with unique visual appeal is your cup of tea (or espresso), then I recommend taking a look at IND-XED. If you like comics with dark, but not overly grotesque or triggering, themes, or like to think about and re-read your comics to get the most out of them, then I recommend IND-XED.